I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

How a humble hand-written receipt signals “real deal”

My oldest son likes to expose me to new music.  To bands with names like “El Ten Eleven” and “Architecture in Helsinki.”  Atonal, modern-sounding stuff that I can’t quite describe.   For Mother’s Day he gave me this CD.

Cover of CD "Actor" by St. Vincent (yes, she goes by that name)

Cover of CD "Actor" by St. Vincent (yes, she goes by that name)

We talked about this artist, and her kinda challenging music–in a disjointed conversation that mainly revealed my deep well of musical ignorance.   (So I won’t share it.)  But I also like this other conversation we had about his buying the CD.

Dane:

They gave me a free seven inch single album when I bought it.

Me:

That’s odd.  You can’t play a record at home.  You’ve probably never even seen a turntable.  (I later went on to explain 33 1/3 RPM vs. 45 RPM.)

Dane:

It wasn’t all that surprising.  This shop sells real albums and a lot of old stuff.  I will probably just put the single up on my wall.  The other thing was, they gave me a hand-written receipt, the kind made with with carbon paper and everything.

Me (noticing what he noticed….a hand-written receipt is novel to my son.  Hmmmm….that is fascinating.)

So what did you think about that receipt?

Dane:

Well it might have just been practical.  They sell a lot of used stuff like CD’s in that store, so they might not have all their inventory totally catalogued.  But mainly, it just made sense.  Like it went along with this other thing that happened…while I was in there, a musician stopped in to buy a couple albums and he was talking about the gig he was going to do that night.  It was casual and no big deal, but it just seemed more real.  The receipt.  And that guy stopping in, as part of his day, just to chat.

I think about this kind of phenomenon all the time.  How people crave “real.”  About how we ALWAYS will buy more swiss chard or tomatoes than we can possibly use when we get caught up in the spirit of a farmer’s market.  When you can talk to the producers of your food, you want to take that food home.  You TRUST it.  Same thing when you can talk to the actual craftsperson of something, or the owner of a boutique shop who carefully selects her items, and can relay the real stories behind the objects she offers.  We lose this “reality” and connection entirely, in most of our transactional experiences.

I love Amazon for what it does well, but Amazon stands between me and the producer/writer/creator of the things I buy there.  I can talk to other people about buying/using the item.   (Sort of–I can’t exactly talk to them, but I can at least read what they wrote.  And write my own thoughts too.)  But I can’t dialogue with the creator of the product, real time.

I love that aspect of Daily Grommet.  We work hard to share the real stories behind the Grommets.  We ask the supplier, or creator, or user, of the Grommet to be available for the first 24 hours of our featuring their product….just to chat.  At first, our early suppliers were a little afraid to do it.   But afterwards, they all reported how much fun it was to hear from customers, new and old.  We’re not inventing anything.  People always have loved to do that.  We’re just enabling a new way to do it…to reach more people and get great products and their hard-working creators exposed.

I talked to a smart woman last night who said,

There are more and more people who crave what you offer.  I call it texture.

I loved that word, applied to Grommet.

mark174Back to that receipt. It was probably written on toothy, inexpensive paper.  Maybe it had the store’s logo printed at the top.  Maybe the employee had interesting handwriting, or maybe it was quirky and illegible.  But what that receipt lacked was even more interesting…it carried no standardized inventory numbering system, it implied a total absence of a connection to “headquarters”, and a complete lack of concern for an automated reporting of sales.  That receipt was powerful in its intimacy.  At this moment, at this time, the only people who know you bought this CD are You and Me. Maybe someone will stack up all the receipts at the end of the night, and add and delete things on a ledger.  But at this moment, the whole transaction lives and breathes only between two people, and this little piece of paper.  That’s pretty real.

P.S.  June 16, 2009  A little update.  My son just showed me the actual receipt.  It’s on that yellow carbon paper.  The name of the store is “Paul’s Compact Discs” and it is in Pittsburgh.  Their slogan is:  “You could either be successful or be us.”  🙂

3 Responses to “How a humble hand-written receipt signals “real deal””

  1. Daniel Weinreb

    Music can be bought from the new “direct to fan” concept, which lets the artist know who you are, and lets you talk to them. You can also buy their “merch” (tee shirts and such) and buy concert tickets.

    The money goes to the artists; compare that with the 30% cut that the iTunes store takes. And bands can make a lot of additional money from merch and concerts.

    But more important, with the iTunes store, there is no connection between the artists and their fans. With “direct to fan”, you get an instant fan club.

    Anyone interested in this should take a look at http://www.nimbit.com. They have a free service that’s extremely uesful, and then there are upgrades available that cost a monthly fee. (Full disclosure: I am an investor in Nimbit.) There are other such companies too, such as Adva Mobile (I’ve gotten to know the CEO but otherwise am not involved) and probably others.

    Reply
  2. julespieri

    Dan–on that theme of musicians controlling the release and sale of their music, we are pretty excited about an upcoming Grommet (a new CD) from an artist who is very pioneering in this area. I won’t reveal his name, because that would spoil the fun of his day in the Grommet sun. But we wanted to support his efforts on that direct distribution….plus Jeanne is a total groupie for his sound. She even sang a song with him when he visited our office. I hope that part stays in the video. It was adorable. Stay tuned.

    Reply
  3. dlweinreb

    When I get new music, it sometimes takes me a long time to decide how much I like it; I have to listen to it over and over before I feel I really “get” it. I’ve been listening to Actor for a while now and it’s really growing on me. She’s not just a good singer; she’s a great composer, doing quite novel music, and that’s hard to find. Jules, I’m very impressed by Dane’s taste. I’ll have to find out what else he likes!

    Reply

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